Review: Watch Dogs (2014)

The city is your weapon in the most anticipated game of the year but the hype quickly shows that it can cause a game to just crash and burn.

On paper Watch Dogs is exciting, fun and genre defining but sometimes actions just aren’t louder then words. Watch Dogs centres round Aiden Pearce a brilliant hacker looking to get revenge for the death of his niece by the hands of rival hackers and gang lords.

My problem that I have with Ubisoft titles is that the main protagonist falls flat and you never feel like you are able to connect with the character and why change it with Watch Dogs? Aiden never feels like his character gets going or like we’re gaining any ground with the character or pulling back the layers on what makes him tick. With such a massive city to explore and make your weapon when playing as Aiden he draws the life out of the city and makes it feel dull and lifeless, which is a pain when everything else about the game is very fun and I found myself spending hours in side missions and silly mini- games.

If I could change anything about the game I would swap the protagonist roles with Clara, another hacker who’s sexy, dangerous and cool, T-Bone a urban myth that lives to serve one purpose keeping himself off the grid and alive, or Jordi, a hit man that works for the highest bidder and will take you down whether your friend, family or foe. These are just three examples of intriguing and interesting characters that you grow to love over the course of the game, but they just make Aiden’s unlike ability just that bit more noticeable.

Aiden Pearce lacks a lot as the protagonist.

With a story that is just over 40 hours, depending on your play style, with hundreds more hours to be spent playing the mini-games and side missions you’re never left feeling like there’s nothing to do, which can be a breath of fresh air as the story can sometimes get too much to play through mission to mission. The story is spread over five acts that can be from 10 hours each to as little as 2 hours for the final act but each act introduces you to a new layer of a well-crafted story that ends up blowing up in their face as the finale of the game completely misses the mark. As the credits rolled I was confused about the ending as I felt like I had missed a massive chunk of the story or like they had left it out of the game. The game also ends with a massive choice for the player that doesn’t feel like its justified or earned as you’re playing such a linear story up to that point, giving a choice at the end just feels confusing. A lot of Watch Dogs feels like their missing the target but always just saving it seconds before I lose interest and switch off.

The soundtrack saves Watch Dogs more times then I can count. It’s epic, tense and action packed all at the same time. Each piece of music is used precisely for the scene that’s being carried out on screen. So as I’m going to confront the villain at the end of the game, Aiden is giving a brilliant end game speech with this amazing action soundtrack playing behind him. The soundtrack blends very well with the game as you speed round Chicago’s streets changing traffic lights, raising and lowering bridges, stopping police in their tracks with traffic blockers but the soundtrack carries over very well from missions to when you’re just free roaming around in your car cruising around Chicago. While the range of music tracks doesn’t feel as diverse as GTA V for example or as large, it does still make the difference and having it play every time you enter a vehicle is brilliant but it will still have everything there for every player’s musical preference and if you would rather just listen to the news that’s there ready to listen to for you as well.

The gameplay mixed with the soundtrack makes for some brilliant fun when you’re outside of missions as you have gang hideouts to take down, driver contracts to take on, collectibles, and places of interest around Chicago and CTOS towers to take down which reveal more of the map for you, which are very much like the viewpoints from the Assassins Creed series. Watch Dogs doesn’t try to over complicate things, giving you simple tutorials that make everything easy to master within minutes of doing it the first time. Hacking is all done with a simple click of the button whether you’re speeding through the city or just walking down the streets. The only problem is it doesn’t feel different or new and starting the game with power to do anything and then having that stripped of you to the bare minimum is just annoying. Driving in the game is where the gameplay falls down as cars just feel weighted and are easy to crash, as they are to start up. I never felt like I was in control of the cars unless it was stationary or I was going as slow as possible, which makes the driver contract jobs a pain as you try and make it to a certain position with car asked for and what started out, as a normal car becomes more of a wreck by the end of the mission.

The soundtrack over the gameplay is quite simply EPIC!

But anything that makes use of the game’s brilliant gun and shooting mechanics is fun and easy to get through with ease. Gang hideouts can be played stealthy hacking cameras looking for your target and using the environment to kill him or go in and find and kill him yourself. It’s a perfect mixture of different gameplay and hacking always blends brilliantly whether it’s while you’re driving avoiding gang members or police, or scouting out enemy positions and then going in silently or loud and killing them.

Whilst side missions in the game may be fun for the first few times they can quickly become stale as they are used over and over as missions for the main story. Each main mission feels like a driver’s contract or a gang hideout as you take out guys and then drive away trying to escape. Gameplay is fun but repetitive and becomes more of a pain and bore then fun.

Watch Dogs, underneath all of its bad points and bad habits that can be improved in sequels to come, still manages to be fun and entertaining with plenty of gameplay to last well over 40 hours. Visually it’s both stunning and ambitious and shows a beautiful game could lie underneath if it wasn’t being up scaled from an old-gen model. Whilst Aiden lacks a lot as a protagonist, there is enough interesting and intriguing characters that help you look past it and keep you wanting to know more.

It doesn’t live up to the hype but I feel it has set a stage for a potential another Watch Dogs game in the future. Look at this game as the beta test for the true experience they want to create. It has set a bench mark for the next-gen open world experience and one I hope other games can look at and learn from its mistakes because underneath it all lies a solid game following bad traits and habits.

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